With job placements less than two weeks away at the Faculty of Management Studies, Malvika Singh, who worries incessantly about her weight, is dreading her fitting for a business suit on Sunday.
“I am delaying it, but it has to be done,” said Singh, 22, adding that she plans to shop at Mango and Allen Solly, two high-end clothing stores in South Delhi.
Aside from practising interviewing techniques, Indian business school students are now busy grooming themselves for something they will never get a chance at again: making a good first impression.
And many say they are spending a lot of time and money on looks.
In response, popular retailers operating near business schools offer discounts, beginning with fall interviews for summer internships into this winter placement season.
For their part, campuses impose fairly strict dress codes—no loud ties, checks or prints on shirts, for example—and the ever-enterprising B-school students are wooing vendors to offer deeper discounts if students buy in bulk.
Female candidates like Singh say the increased focus on formal attire has meant that saris and salwar kameezes are being moved to the back of closets. Singh said Indian clothing, much as it may hide generous figures, is no longer an option for urban women about to enter the workplace.
“A business suit gives you a cutting edge,” she said. “It puts you on an equal footing with men when it comes to power dressing.”
At the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, students have several brands to choose from when they shop for suits. Shops such as Agarwal Avenue, a retailer for Reid & Taylor suits, offer a discount if students show an identity card.
“They are a strong market,” said Surag Shah, owner of Agarwal Avenue. “We know they need suits, especially for placements.”
Human resource managers say all but jeans and sneakers pass muster. “Looking smart and sharp is important, not the colour of your shirt,” said Harshvendra Soin, senior vice-president for corporate human relations at telecom major Bharti Group, now canvassing 15 campuses for 70-75 hires.
Last year, Abhishek Sipani, a 2008 batch student at FMS, went for placement in a dark Rs 5,000 Blackberry suit, a white shirt from Raymond’s Park Avenue collection and a blue tie. He’s in Standard Chartered Bank now. “There should nothing that distracts the interviewer,” Sipani said.
Besides fashion magazines and retailers, students turn to each other for advice, especially seniors. “Getting formal wear can be a hassle for students, and it can be expensive as well,” said Nitya Guruvayurappan, a 2007 student at IIM, Bangalore.
Students estimate that suits cost them anywhere from Rs3,000 to Rs7,000. While business students routinely attend classes in jeans and T-shirts, placement season mandates a certain formality. Seniors instruct even first-year students—usually working as volunteers or interviewing for summer jobs themselves—to clean up.
As part of a students’ club, Guruvayurappan and her peers organized an on-campus visit of a local tailor who stocks Raymond brand suit material.
The tailor offered men discounts on shirts, ties and belts if they placed a suit order. Women received discounts on every three-piece suit—a shirt, a jacket and a pair of trousers or a skirt. In return, the tailor left the campus with 130 suit orders from students.